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BY Yaakov Albietz : March 8

Apple iPad - the Top Greenwash of 2010

ipad ibooks


As a company, Apple seems to have a bunch of laudable green achievements and goals. But... so does Wal-Mart these days. And although a greener Wal-Mart may be better than a non-green Wal-Mart, a lot of people still think that the country would be a better place without them at all. Is that the way that we're going to start thinking about Apple?

A common marketing strategy of Apple CEO Steve Jobs is to hijack the cultural zeitgeist. And now Apple is hijacking green and sustainability.

Remember the famous 'think different' campaign? What in the world do posters of famous intellectuals and artists have to do with Apple? Nothing at all. Gandhi and Einstein weren't Apple customers and probably wouldn't have used Macs. But this worked well to help target Apple's main customers at the time, many of whom were creative professionals involved in 'thinking differently' as part of their creative process.

But creative professionals aren't Apple's core customers anymore. Instead, Apple is trying to dominate the mid-to-high end computer and cellphone markets. And recent marketing studies show global brands like Apple that customers in these markets care deeply about green and sustainability.

And out pops the new 'green' Apple.

It's great that the iPad isn't as toxic as it could have been. But if Apple were a truly green company the iPad could have been so much more - Maybe a solar powered iPad, or it could have included new hardware innovations that would reduce its carbon footprint and make it easily recyclable or even bio-degradable. This is what we should expect from a 'green' Apple.

But this is what we got instead: "Arsenic-Free, BFR-Free, Mercury-Free, PVC-free system, Highly recyclable."

Other than 'PVC-free', most of these 'features' seem to be simply the removal of toxins that are gradually being phased out of consumer electronics anyhow. And these would all be completely unnoticeable to consumers unless their iPad somehow exploded or set on fire. But if we ignore the reality distortion and attempt to really understand how Apple is addressing the environmental and sustainability concerns of the iPad, we come up grasping for straws:

Issue #1. Made in china. - Why not made in the USA? If companies are starting to build electric cars and solar cells in the US, we can definitely start making laptops, tablets and cellphones here too. President Obama would definitely support and encourage US-based electronics manufacturing and the jobs it would bring.

Issue #2. Crippled by design and cannot be upgraded. - The iPad, like the original iPhone, was released missing obvious features that are inexpensive and easy to include, and it seems that things were deliberately left out to require users to buy later upgrades. This original iPad is missing a camera, usb connectivity, and memory card slots, and at least some of these will surely be added to later models since the netbooks and e-Readers it competes with have them. So, many of these early adopters will just HAVE to get the new iPad Plus when it's released about 3-6 months after the original iPad.

Issue #3. Non user-serviceable, and not designed to be easily or inexpensively repaired. - Although Apple likes to say that this is somehow a feature that allows them to make a sleeker device, it's really just a way to ensure that you will need to pay a lot of money to service and repair the iPad.

Issue #4. Cannot be recycled by local recycling centers. - The drawback of built-in batteries is that they make the entire device unfit for disposal at a regular recycling center. A 'green' Apple would include pre-paid return labels with every iPad to ensure that users are educated about how to properly dispose of their iPads. But I guess this wouldn't be possible since Apple hasn't announced any recycling programs for their 'highly recyclable' iPad.

It's clear that being green means good business, and smart companies like Apple are starting to realize the importance of green in their marketing campaigns. But they also need to understand that being green needs to be much more than just another branding or marketing exercise. Products need to be designed with green ideals and concepts in mind, and the entire company needs to incorporate green and sustainability as a core business principle. Apple, as well as the rest of the consumer electronics industry, needs to stop trying to trick Green consumers and truly respect our values. They can and should do much better.

37 Responses to Apple iPad - the Top Greenwash of 2010

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  4. buildaroo on September 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm


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  8. buildaroo on April 18, 2011 at 8:07 am


    Apple iPad - the Top Greenwash of 2010 http://bit.ly/cNtcVL #eco #cleantech #greenbuilding #renewableenergy

  9. buildaroo on February 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm


    Apple iPad - the Top Greenwash of 2010 http://bit.ly/cNtcVL #eco #cleantech #greenbuilding #renewableenergy

  10. Callum McCluskey on January 9, 2011 at 11:25 am


    A greener iPad ... well, no not really. C'mon Steve Jobs!! http://buildaroo.com/news/article/apple-ipad-the-top-greenwash-of-2010/


  11. [...] to work together to try to negate some of our effect on the environment. Of course, the iPad itself uses some pretty toxic materials in its construction, isn’t user upgradeable, and can’t be recyc..., and the project uses 25 of them, but who’s [...]


  12. [...] to work together to try to negate some of our effect on the environment. Of course, the iPad itself uses some pretty toxic materials in its construction, isn’t user upgradeable, and can’t ..., and the project uses 25 of them, but who’s [...]


  13. [...] to work together to try and negate some of our effect on the environment. Of coure, the iPad itself uses some pretty toxic materials in its construction, isn’t user upgradeable, and can’t ..., and the project uses 25 of them, but who’s [...]

  14. Eduard Motos on November 7, 2010 at 12:25 am


    RT @LoveNatureWater: Apple iPad – the Top Greenwash of 2010 http://bit.ly/bqd69C #renewableenergy #greenbuilding

  15. Judi Rich on November 6, 2010 at 7:43 pm


    Apple iPad – the Top Greenwash of 2010 http://bit.ly/bqd69C #renewableenergy #greenbuilding


  16. [...] is an environmentally conscientious iPhone lover to do? Be strong. Gadgets aren’t really green, just the people who use them. Tags: Environment, apple iPhone, iPhone 4, cell phones, [...]


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  23. uberVU - social comments on January 29, 2010 at 6:36 am


    Social comments and analytics for this post...

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by buildaroo: #Apple #iPad gets our vote for the Top Greenwash of 2010 http://bit.ly/cNtcVL #electronics #green #eco #gadgets...

  24. David Lasher on January 29, 2010 at 1:37 am


    RT @buildaroo: Apple iPad gets our vote for #1 Greenwash of 2010 http://bit.ly/cNtcVL #electronics #green #eco #gadgets

  25. Luis Miguel Delgado on January 29, 2010 at 1:23 am


    http://tinyurl.com/ya4alkv very solid review of the #iPad

  26. Green Space on January 29, 2010 at 1:02 am


    We'll see way worse before the year's over. @buildaroo Re: Apple iPad now gets our vote for the Top Greenwash of 2010 http://bit.ly/cNtcVL

  27. Kit R on January 28, 2010 at 11:47 pm


    Indeed RT @buildaroo: Where's the solar/bamboo #iPad? instead we get greenwashing hidden by killer marketing: http://bit.ly/cNtcVL #tablet

  28. Alastair Leith on January 28, 2010 at 6:44 pm


    Only point #4 is valid. The other points express your ignorance. Apple computers have Always had a longer life cycle (usefulness and resale value as percentage of purchase price) than all other PCs on the market (that's why universities order a skip bin for 3 yo PC labs and trade a lab of 3 yo Macs for a new laptop or two).

    It's all too common to hear attacks against Apple for wasteful practices because they use strongly manipulative marketing techniques so Apple products appear very desirable to people with surplus cash, this does not necessitate that their products are dumped for new ones more rapidly than other brands. My personal observations are that the reverse is true, people tend to hand them down or hang on to them longer because they are ahead of the market in multimedia capability and so on (I'm writing this on a dual g5 I bought second hand and it's still good for graphic design work).

    Manufacturing an iPad in US is possible (the Apple A4 custom SOC chip was designed but not fab'd in US by Apple and that is where the high value jobs are btw) but comparing it to a solar cell or electric vehicle again expresses your naivety about IT manufacturing and the source and complexity of components inside an iPad. Solar cells and electric cars are elementary devices to make once designed by comparison. Also those companies are probably trying to protect there IP from Chinese business people who disregard international copyright routinely and set up copy-cat manufacturing plants often from the same blueprints in the same city.

    Apple was rightly criticised for not being a leader for removing toxic substances and then got their house in order pretty quickly following Green-My-Apple campaign. The reasons for removing these substances are very serious and if you think it's only because a device might explode or catch fire you have no business writing this column.

    As for peripherals yeah I'd like to have a piece of the dark-side-of-the-moon integrated into my iPad too but price might make that prohibitive for Apple to do – even if they could get massive margin on it.
    If they included all the stuff you want you get device bloat (SD card reader takes space and they had to remove PC card from latest MBPs to make way for it) and a price increase (not to mention making more tech that never gets used and is hard to recycle). Isn't it for Apple and the market to decide what to include as standard. I don't fancy using a camera the size of folio book with a shitty micro lens anyhow. Although a front mounted webchat cam would of course be a nice way to consume lots of (environmentally damaging) web bandwidth video chatting to friends.

    The final reason I think your column is completely missing the point is that if I have an iPad lying around the house I don't need my power sucking Dual G5 tower humming away 16 hours of the day just for casual content browsing. The iPad is muchhh more eneregy efficient not to mention a more convenient way to access my content and the web. I would expect to reduce MacPro use to 8 hours a day.

    Thanks for the ill-considered knee jerk reaction.
    Alastair

    • buildaroo crew on January 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm


      Alistair,

      I appreciate your feedback, but I have to disagree with some of your points.

      The average lifecycle of Apple desktops and laptops is longer than that of PC's, but we should focus our attention on the lifecycle of Apple's iPod/iPhone line to understand the iPad lifecycle. The Apple iPod/iPhone products have a short 1-3 year lifecycle due to continual and rapid obsolescence. You can make the argument that this is due to the neverending advance of technology, which is true, but Apple definitely knows about their product lifecycle and they should either a) design their products in a way that encourages a longer lifecycle or b) design their products with obsolescence in mind.

      You also mention the ease of solar panel and advanced battery manufacturing versus computer/iPad assembly. However I believe that if you learn more about advanced battery and solar cell fabrication, you would see that they are incredibly complex products with very tight engineering tolerances that easily rival the complexity of the iPad. Also the reason why solar panels and batteries are beginning to be manufactured in the US is partly is a combination of tax incentives, better quality control and less uncertainty in cost and timing due to not having to rely on shipments coming from China. It is possible the IP reasons are also a factor, but as you can see from the iPhone and iPod which have still as of now not been successfully copied in china, companies can successfully protect their IP while manufacturing in China.

      best,
      yaakov

    • buildaroo crew on January 29, 2010 at 1:05 pm


      I do think that you have a great point about how the iPad can possibly help computer users reduce their daily power usage by shifting typical usage to the highly-efficient iPad device. But it still remains to be seen if it will actually replace any computer usage at all.
      If you are really interested in saving power, I would suggest buying a laptop or netbook that you can actually use for most of your daily needs. For the same price as an iPad you could get a pretty good laptop these days.

      -Yaakov

    • Yaakov Albietz on January 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm


      I also don't understand how the toxic substances that Apple removed from the iPad have any impact on consumers during the typical use of the product. Please explain further, since it would be interesting to hear if there really is some impact I am not aware of.

    • Yaakov Albietz on January 29, 2010 at 1:23 pm


      And regarding the peripherals argument, Apple still finds it important enough to include sd cards, cameras and USB ports in most of their laptops right? The cost of adding these items to the iPad would be minimal but it would greatly enhance the life of the product. Apple could just make them optional add-ons to an iPad Pro if they wanted to.

      Apple of course can decide what to put in their products... and they're free to make ridiculous decisions like leaving the camera out of the new iPod touch while including one in the new iPod nano. This isn't anything new and Apple is is (in)famous for leaving key connectivity features out of their products. My argument is that this is not a 'green' way to create products since it requires people to upgrade more often and create more toxic e-Waste. A key principle of sustainability is that products are either a) designed to be easily recyclable (or they biodegrade) or b) they last a long long time. Apple's iPad, as well as their current iPod/iPhone lines, don't meet either of these standards. So they shouldn't try to market them as being green. It's just dishonest and sneaky marketing.

      -yaakov

  29. Alastair Leith on January 29, 2010 at 2:44 am


    Only point #4 is valid. The other points express your ignorance. Apple computers have Always had a longer life cycle (usefulness and resale value as percentage of purchase price) than all other PCs on the market (that's why universities order a skip bin for 3 yo PC labs and trade a lab of 3 yo Macs for a new laptop or two).

    It's all too common to hear attacks against Apple for wasteful practices because they use strongly manipulative marketing techniques so Apple products appear very desirable to people with surplus cash, this does not necessitate that their products are dumped for new ones more rapidly than other brands. My personal observations are that the reverse is true, people tend to hand them down or hang on to them longer because they are ahead of the market in multimedia capability and so on (I'm writing this on a dual g5 I bought second hand and it's still good for graphic design work).

    Manufacturing an iPad in US is possible (the Apple A4 custom SOC chip was designed but not fab'd in US by Apple and that is where the high value jobs are btw) but comparing it to a solar cell or electric vehicle again expresses your naivety about IT manufacturing and the source and complexity of components inside an iPad. Solar cells and electric cars are elementary devices to make once designed by comparison. Also those companies are probably trying to protect there IP from Chinese business people who disregard international copyright routinely and set up copy-cat manufacturing plants often from the same blueprints in the same city.

    Apple was rightly criticised for not being a leader for removing toxic substances and then got their house in order pretty quickly following Green-My-Apple campaign. The reasons for removing these substances are very serious and if you think it's only because a device might explode or catch fire you have no business writing this column.

    As for peripherals yeah I'd like to have a piece of the dark-side-of-the-moon integrated into my iPad too but price might make that prohibitive for Apple to do – even if they could get massive margin on it.
    If they included all the stuff you want you get device bloat (SD card reader takes space and they had to remove PC card from latest MBPs to make way for it) and a price increase (not to mention making more tech that never gets used and is hard to recycle). Isn't it for Apple and the market to decide what to include as standard. I don't fancy using a camera the size of folio book with a shitty micro lens anyhow. Although a front mounted webchat cam would of course be a nice way to consume lots of (environmentally damaging) web bandwidth video chatting to friends.

    The final reason I think your column is completely missing the point is that if I have an iPad lying around the house I don't need my power sucking Dual G5 tower humming away 16 hours of the day just for casual content browsing. The iPad is muchhh more eneregy efficient not to mention a more convenient way to access my content and the web. I would expect to reduce MacPro use to 8 hours a day.

    Thanks for the ill-considered knee jerk reaction.
    Alastair

    • Yaakov Albietz on January 29, 2010 at 9:03 pm


      Alistair,

      I appreciate your feedback, but I have to disagree with some of your points.

      The average lifecycle of Apple desktops and laptops is longer than that of PC's, but we should focus our attention on the lifecycle of Apple's iPod/iPhone line to understand the iPad lifecycle. The Apple iPod/iPhone products have a short 1-3 year lifecycle due to continual and rapid obsolescence. You can make the argument that this is due to the neverending advance of technology, which is true, but Apple definitely knows about their product lifecycle and they should either a) design their products in a way that encourages a longer lifecycle or b) design their products with obsolescence in mind.

      You also mention the ease of solar panel and advanced battery manufacturing versus computer/iPad assembly. However I believe that if you learn more about advanced battery and solar cell fabrication, you would see that they are incredibly complex products with very tight engineering tolerances that easily rival the complexity of the iPad. Also the reason why solar panels and batteries are beginning to be manufactured in the US is partly is a combination of tax incentives, better quality control and less uncertainty in cost and timing due to not having to rely on shipments coming from China. It is possible the IP reasons are also a factor, but as you can see from the iPhone and iPod which have still as of now not been successfully copied in china, companies can successfully protect their IP while manufacturing in China.

      best,
      yaakov

    • Yaakov Albietz on January 29, 2010 at 9:05 pm


      I do think that you have a great point about how the iPad can possibly help computer users reduce their daily power usage by shifting typical usage to the highly-efficient iPad device. But it still remains to be seen if it will actually replace any computer usage at all.
      If you are really interested in saving power, I would suggest buying a laptop or netbook that you can actually use for most of your daily needs. For the same price as an iPad you could get a pretty good laptop these days.

      -Yaakov

    • yaakov on January 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm


      I also don't understand how the toxic substances that Apple removed from the iPad have any impact on consumers during the typical use of the product. Please explain further, since it would be interesting to hear if there really is some impact I am not aware of.

    • yaakov on January 29, 2010 at 9:23 pm


      And regarding the peripherals argument, Apple still finds it important enough to include sd cards, cameras and USB ports in most of their laptops right? The cost of adding these items to the iPad would be minimal but it would greatly enhance the life of the product. Apple could just make them optional add-ons to an iPad Pro if they wanted to.

      Apple of course can decide what to put in their products... and they're free to make ridiculous decisions like leaving the camera out of the new iPod touch while including one in the new iPod nano. This isn't anything new and Apple is is (in)famous for leaving key connectivity features out of their products. My argument is that this is not a 'green' way to create products since it requires people to upgrade more often and create more toxic e-Waste. A key principle of sustainability is that products are either a) designed to be easily recyclable (or they biodegrade) or b) they last a long long time. Apple's iPad, as well as their current iPod/iPhone lines, don't meet either of these standards. So they shouldn't try to market them as being green. It's just dishonest and sneaky marketing.

      -yaakov

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